Treatments & Fads - CSPM
Visitors take in the waters at Manitou's Soda Springs, 1879

Treatments & Fads

by Leah Davis Witherow, CSPM Curator of History
"If there is such a favored country, let it be known to all. The existence of a natural sanitarium such as this, miles and miles of country bathed in sunshine and pure air, without mankind’s worst enemy (tuberculosis) lurking in every corner — nay, not, as a rule, even present — is a fact that should be shouted from the housetops in every city, town or village over our great country, in which one life in every 333 is lost every year from a contagious and preventable disease.”
Dr. Charles Fox Gardiner, 1898

Sanatorium treatment in Colorado Springs was based on Dr. Trudeau’s original prescription of rest, fresh air, sunny climates and healthy food that Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau implemented at the Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium at Saranac Lake, New York. Rest was believed to heal diseased lungs. Because they chased the cure through long hours of rest, consumptives were often called “chasers” or “lungers.” In addition to the rest cure, patients were fed three large meals a day supplemented by as many as a dozen eggs and a gallon of milk, in hopes of rebuilding invalids’ physiques made thin and frail from consumption. Additionally, the mineral waters of Manitou Springs were thought to be beneficial for a variety of health ailments, ranging from dyspepsia to tuberculosis.   

Local physicians developed their own treatment methods and became well known for unique sub-specialties. Dr. Charles Fox Gardiner had one of the most successful practices in Colorado Springs and is credited with the invention of the tent cottage. Said to have been inspired by the Ute tepees Gardiner visited in Colorado’s backcountry, the eight-sided Gardiner Sanitary Tent was open at the top and had inlets for fresh air at the base. Both the canvas and wooden versions of Gardiner’s invention were extremely popular and used at nearly every sanatorium in the region.  

To maximize access to fresh air, patients in local sanatoria sat outside in steamer chairs six to eight hours a day for weeks, months or even years on end. Patients had their temperatures and pulse rates frequently monitored. Those on rest cures were allowed very little physical activity and tuberculars with the most advanced cases remained bedridden for months at a time. Nearly all invalids at local sanatoria led regimented lives; meal times, rest times, bathing times and recreation times were strictly enforced. At some facilities, patients were not even allowed to talk while at rest.

Drawing for Gardiner Tent Cottages built at the Modern Woodmen of America Sanitarium, ca. 1909
Drawing for Gardiner Tent Cottages built at the Modern Woodmen of America Sanitarium, ca. 1909

City of Sunshine proved an apt marketing slogan as heliotherapy was an especially popular treatment method in the region. From the Greek word helios meaning sun, heliotherapy involved exposing patients to maximum amounts of sunlight in order to kill the tuberculosis (bacilli) “bugs.” As the author of a 1915 promotional brochure declared, “The value of the sun in tuberculosis has been shown beyond question by the success of helio-therapy in Switzerland and in the eastern portions of the United States. The Rocky Mountain region in general has from 12 to 100 percent more sunshine than other parts of the U.S., Colorado Springs has 70 percent of possible sunshine as an annual average.”

Additionally, the mineral waters of Manitou Springs were thought to be beneficial for a variety of health ailments ranging from dyspepsia to tuberculosis. Physician Dr. Edwin Solly and others produced pamphlets extolling the beneficial trace metals of each mineral spring. Local boosters distributed these publications widely, encouraging generations of tuberculars and tourists flock to Manitou Springs to “drink the healing waters.” By the late nineteenth century, the Manitou Springs Mineral Water Company was shipping millions of bottles of mineral water and their popular Ginger Champagne to eager customers across the globe.

Specialists often used more invasive techniques to treat tuberculosis. Artificial pneumothorax was a procedure that originated in Europe but was practiced locally until the late 1940s. As fluid in one bottle flowed into another, the air in the once-empty bottle was displaced and inserted through a needle into the pleural space between the chest wall and the lung. This caused the lung to collapse — and hopefully heal more quickly. This portable apparatus could be taken to the bedside in homes, tents, cottages or sleeping porches. Of course, many consumptives self-medicated with a plethora of over- the-counter patent medicines that were readily available at numerous local drugstores.  

Patients partake in heliotherapy at Modern Woodmen of American Sanitarium, 1927
Patients partake in heliotherapy at Modern Woodmen of American Sanitarium, 1927

History of Tuberculosis Treatment

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Leah Davis Witherow, Curator of History

719.385.5649 | Leah.Witherow@coloradosprings.gov